Letters to Autumn: The Forest | Evan Dempsey

“Dear Autumn,” reads the letter on the desk. Like most of its author’s thoughts, it is unfinished. Whether it is addressed to a girl of that name, or the season slowly mixing its livid palette into the leaves of the trees outside, it cannot be determined.

The letter’s creator, our beleaguered hero, is at the desk now, but it isn’t the serpentine channels of computer code on his laptop screen that he is interested in. He is looking out of the window, at the small snatch of sky that is the only reprieve from the desert of the blacktop roof that otherwise dominates the view.

He watches dense grey clouds slide across the sky, pushed by a brisk wind like the breath of a sleeping winter whose gothic dreams are slowly gathering inertia until they can wake the cold season from its slumber. The letter-writer imagines how the trees will look soon: the stately colors of the leaves enhanced in their majesty by the crisp clearness of the fall air. He imagines running through the woods once the leaves have fallen, the fetid scent of decay serving as a gentle reminder of death, and of how good it feels to be alive; drawing the invigoratingly cold air through his lungs as he speeds through the corridor of skeletal arborage. With the leaves gone, he can see through the forest just far enough to imagine that it goes on forever; that on the other side of the trees there is no more pavement, only more trees; that the hilltop mansions on the eastern edge of the city are its farthest extent, and even there the magic of the forest creeps in, gilding the dwellings of man with an antique, pagan beauty in the last light of evening. Past them, the roads turn to cobblestone, and the houses, now hewn from stone and wood instead of glass and concrete, grow fewer and farther between. The air here is not the same as that which shone on the mansions. The forest filters it; it is no longer man’s air, profaned by his burnt offerings to idols of black gold. It is the air that shrouded and nurtured the world when things grew of their own accord, and not at the behest of mankind. Here lives an age that has never been, has always been, will never be, and always will be. In this endless forest walk heathen beings that have walked the earth until the dawn of time, and since its end, but have only ever lived outside of the great forest in the minds of the letter-writers.

But nothing walks in the stuffy room now, not even its tenant, who hunches over his keyboard and watches his code for signs of life. He will not find any, but it is not because the functions and loops on the screen cannot come alive. It is because he, their creator, has not, will not, cannot give them the breath of life that every creator must give to his creations. The code came from him, but it is not of him, and while he might have spoken that language once, the language of numbers and logic and tests and grades, he does not any longer. Now the work only brings him frustration, the frustration of someone who has lost his legs, but has not yet forgotten what it felt like to walk.

Defeated, he slumps over in his chair, cursing himself with a familiar ease. He curses his stupidity, his sloth, and his weakness. If the poets have silver tongues, then his is gold as he lashes himself with its nimble length. But who is this man (if he may be called that yet) who disparages himself with such eloquence? The child he was would not recognize him, but he is me.

Once more I turn my gaze to the window. The sky outside is turning red and purple with the coming dusk, and I think of those hilltop mansions, whose dark eaves and warm, lamp-lit windows will be beckoning. Answering their call, I decide it is time to go a bit further. I close my laptop; I have already done all the work I can ever hope to do. As the light outside fades, I draw my curtains against the industrial waste outside and lie on my bed. It is not long before I close my eyes and sleep, to dream of that faraway forest, ancient and autumnal, where the miasma of realism and the fog of logic fall away, and the air is cool and clear.

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